This program is organized by Duke faculty/staff in collaboration with DukeEngage. 

Program Dates

June 14 - August 9

Service Focus

Partnering with NGOs that focus on social and environmental justice; community development; and other issues critical to communities established as the result of apartheid. 

Program Leader 

, Director of Policy Initiatives, Duke Center for Child and Family Policy; Lecturer, Sanford School of Public Policy. 

Program Scope

Students live and spend most of their time in Wentworth, about a 15-minute drive from Durban city centre.  Students are matched with organizations working to improve the economic, environmental, educational and overall living conditions for residents of Wentworth, a community that was established as the result of apartheid. The program includes opportunities to learn about the experience and impact of apartheid from NGO leaders, homestay hosts and others.

Students immerse themselves in multiple meaningful efforts and activities—meaningful with regard to the students’ world view, educational development and personal growth and meaningful in terms of the contributions the students can make.

There are partial and full-day excursions in the Durban area and an overnight trip (2-3 nights) to Mnweni, a rural community in the Drakensberg, an area of the KwaZulu-Natal province.  Mnweni residents run a cultural tourism and economic development center where students stay in traditional rondavels.

Throughout the program, students observe the impact of government policy on on-the-ground service delivery. They interact with individuals and organizations directly involved with “the struggle” (as the effort to abolish apartheid was and still is called). 

The program seeks students who are interested in direct services as well as in the government, policy, and power systems that require, fund, and otherwise influence those services. 

Service Opportunities:

Following are possible placement options. One or more sites listed here may have more than one student and one or more sites may not have any students. See additional site information below at "Placement Information."

·     Assegai Primary School

·     Isiaiah 54 Children’s Home

·     Keep a Child Alive - Blue Roof Clinic

·     Ocean View Place of Safety

·     One Global Economy Computer Center

·     South Durban Basin Area Based Management 

·     South Durban Community Environmental Alliance

·     South Durban Disability Services

·     St. Monica Children’s Home

·     Victim Friendly Centre  

·     We Help Our Children

Through the organizations above, students work on a range of challenges, including but not limited to:

·     Capacity building for non-governmental organizations

·     Child welfare

·     Community economic development

·     Domestic violence

·     Education

·     Environmental advocacy, education, law and policy

·     Public health / health education

·     Youth development, including academic and life skills

Program Requirements & Logistics

Language/Other Prerequisites: English is the primary language spoken in Wentworth and throughout Durban.  In the province of KwaZulu-Natal, Zulu is the most common language.  Based on feedback from past program participants, students will benefit from using online resources to learn basic Zulu terms before departing.

Course Requirements: Specific prior coursework is not required, however, preference may be given to students who demonstrate knowledge and understanding of South African history and culture, and/or knowledge and understanding of the non-profit sector (in the U.S. or abroad). 

Technical Skills and Requirements: Website development, strong writing skills, experience with resource development (including writing grant proposals) and creativity/entrepreneurship are all skills that serve students in this program particularly well. Students who have had the most “success” in this program with regard to contributions to community partners’ work, are students who are resourceful, creative, wiling to propose and try new things (both skills and experiences) and who regularly ask thoughtful questions. This is important, as the specifics of what students will do at each worksite in a given year are not pre-determined to the extent that many students might expect or prefer. 

Reflection Sessions: There are weekly reflection sessions led by the program director or coordinator in the first weeks of the program and co-led by the students later in the program.  The program blog is another opportunity for student reflection.

Neighborhood:  Wentworth is a community in South Durban.  Durban, with a population of over three million, is South Africa’s third largest city and home to South Africa’s largest port.  It has the largest population of Asians in sub-Saharan Africa.  South Africa as a whole has the largest population of people of Indian descent in the world, outside of India. The vast majority of them live in the Durban area.  Durban is in the KwaZulu-Natal province, which has a large Zulu population. 

Wentworth is known for being situated in the heart of an industrial basin where major oil refineries reside along with chemical and manufacturing plants. The outputs of these plants are the source of significant blame for health problems endured by many local residents.  Wentworth was initially populated almost exclusively by “coloured” South Africans who, like so many non-whites, were forcibly removed from their homes in the city centers during Apartheid.  While still self-described as “coloured,” Wentworth is increasingly ethnically and racially diverse. The history of Apartheid is the history of Wentworth as is the new history of post-Apartheid South Africa.

In addition to the large multi-national corporations, there is a hospital in Wentworth that borders a nature preserve. The community boasts strong environmental activism stemming from problems related to the oil refineries and other controversial industries.

The range of economic well-being in Wentworth is striking.  Large parts of the community consist of comfortable houses that were once all of the same cookie-cutter design and now show the results of decades of add-ons that have enlarged and individualized the dwellings.  This is in contrast to areas of extreme poverty, where families live in unsafe and unsanitary conditions, barefoot children run through litter-strewn roads, and many families can’t afford the school fees.  Unemployment is at 50%, some say even higher, though official government numbers are much lower (the official national rate has hovered around 25% in recent years). 

Housing and Accommodations: The program begins with students and program leaders living in group accommodations. The expected location for the first week of the 2014 program is the Nature’s Haven Eco Park, an environmentally friendly organization, conveniently located near many off Wentworth’s amenities.     Other than the 2-3-day trip to Mnweni, accommodations for the rest of the program are  in the homes of Wentworth families.  Each student stays with a different family for the duration of the program.  Most (possibly all) of the families have served as DukeEngage hosts before.  Each student has a private bedroom.  All homes have electricity and running hot and cold water.  Some of the homestay sites are within walking distance from the students’ work sites and many of the hosts are familiar with one or more of the work sites.  

Meals:  While at the group accommodation and in Mnweni, the students eat breakfast and dinner together with program leaders.  While at the homestays, hosts provide breakfast, dinner, and at times lunch. The group often combines a meal with the weekly reflection session, which take place at different locations.  Students may use their homestay hosts’ kitchen and refrigerator space and are encouraged to eat dinner with their hosts at least a few times a week. They often do so much more frequently.  There are restaurants within a short drive from the homestays, most of them reasonably priced.   

Communication: Most in-country communication is by cell phone, including extensive text messaging.  Cell phone use is nearly universal in South Africa and phone communication is usually straightforward and reliable.  The program provides each student with a basic cell phone and initial minutes/texting capacity. Students may also bring their own phones.  Some program communication is by e-mail.  If possible, each student should bring a laptop as they are likely to use it for their program work. There is a community computer center and other locations that have free or paid Internet access but students should know that at times, access will be limited.  

Transportation: Transportation to and from work sites is via the program rental car (driven by program staff only) and via local professional drivers hired by the program.   The hired drivers and taxis are options for the students when they wish to organize outings on their own. Students should not to use the  “combis” (group taxis) unless they are with community members familiar with their use.  Some of the students can walk from their homestay to work. Others need a ride, which is arranged by program staff.  

Volunteer Placement Logistics:  MMost of the organizations where students work were started by individuals who launched their efforts with minimal funding or formal support. Many of them have become well-known and relied upon community organizations, often struggling to keep up with demand for services from their “constituents”. 

Most placements include an initial shadowing component, where the students accompany staff on their daily work and assist with that work as appropriate. Placements typically include a combination of direct service work with individuals and groups of people that the organization serves along with work relating to organizational capacity building and sustainability, such as developing written materials to be used for outreach and web sites. There are extensive opportunities for student-initiated efforts. 

Following are brief descriptions of expected placement sites and the type of work students are likely to do. As noted above, it is possible that one or more placements may have more than one student and that one or more sites will have no student. In addition, the students will carry out one or more group projects, which could range from a one-day project to a program-long effort. Students take a leadership role in determining the group projects.  

Assegai Primary School

Assegai is a co-ed government (public) elementary school.  DukeEngage students support the existing curriculum and may develop new projects/programs for the elementary school students.  They may be involved with efforts in areas such as tutoring, after school programming (such as athletics or academic opportunities)and school beautification.

Children’s Homes

At each of the possible children’s home sites, a significant portion of the student’s time will likely involve caring for the children. This includes assisting with daily child-caring activities, accompanying the children and staff on outings (if applicable), and the opportunity to develop program components and/or materials to enhance the home’s offerings for the children, staff, and adoptive parents.

Isaiah 54 Children’s Home

A co-ed home for approximately 20 abandoned and orphaned children ranging from infancy to approximately 10 years old. 

Ocean View Place of Safety

Ocean View Place of Safety is a facility that provides a place of refuge for at-risk youth whose home or family life has put them in danger or is untenable, or who have had an issue with the law and are awaiting rehabilitation options. Ocean View provides food, housing, sport and on-site schooling for boys up to 12 years old and girls up to the age of 17. The Place of Safety is designed to house up to 70 young people for up to six months.

Saint Monica’s Children’s Home

An over 100-year-old institution that strives to “…provide children and young people on admission with the understanding of their present situation (residential care) and the skills to cope and manage the situation” and “…to conduct an independent living programme for young people to be equipped with skills to make the transition from the institution to community life” and to “…to provide children from disadvantaged back-grounds with life-skills.”  St. Monica’s residents are mostly elementary to middle-school aged girls.  

Durban South Skills Development

DSSD is a non-profit skills development program for individuals with a range of disabilities that make it challenging for them to find employment in the traditional labor market. DSSD provides training for specific types of work, along with other critical on-the-job skills. The organizations operates multiple income generating enterprises, all of which employ people with disabilities. 

Keep a Child Alive – Blue Roof Clinic

Keep a Child Alive is an international NGO that operates the Blue Roof, an HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention clinic in Wentworth. Patients not only receive anti-retroviral drugs but a range of supportive services to address nutrition, mental health and other needs. This placement is likely to involve assistance with community education as well as with outreach and communications efforts such as development of materials for dissemination in the community.

One Global Economy Technology Center

The Center houses approximately 20 computers and has two staff.  It adjoins the public library, the local elected Councilor’s office, and a community hall. Children form lines at the door when the Center opens after school.  In the mornings and many evenings, the Center is open for adults to attend computer classes and to use the center for their computer needs.  DukeEngage students respond to day-to-day queries, provide basic training to new computer users, and have the opportunity to develop computer workshops, particularly for the youth. They may work on outreach to inform more members of the community of the center's existence and services. Specific to this effort, the student may create written materials about the center.

South Durban Basin Area Based Management

This is a local government agency that interacts and partners with many of the NGOs at which students work. It “is responsible for the design and implementation of social development programmes” in the area, focusing on economic development, technical assistance, and liaising between NGOs and the Durban municipality.  Students are likely to assist with technical assistance to community organizations and may be able to conduct research into funding and other resource opportunities for those organizations.

South Durban Community Environmental Alliance

SDCEA focuses on environmental justice and related issues of concern to the citizens of Wentworth and neighboring communities.  Its activities and initiatives include: monitoring air pollution and incidents, lobbying elected officials for clean air legislation, writing and distributing information to stakeholders, convening workshops to inform and empower community members, and working for sustainable urban development.  The DukeEngage students work in the community and at the SDCEA office.  Community work involves meetings and events such as community clean-ups. Office work is likely to include preparing documents for advocacy purposes.  

Victim Friendly Centre

The Victim Friendly Centre is a domestic violence relief and support program housed within (but separate from) the local police station. The Centre provides a safe haven for victims of domestic violence, assists victims with becoming financially and emotionally self-sufficient, provides basic necessities to families in immediate need due to domestic violence, and makes referrals to other service providers.  The Centre and police have a strong working relationship.  DukeEngage students assist with daily work as well as help with the Centre’s efforts to enhance its infrastructure through requests for funds and in-kind donations.  In addition, they assist staff with their networking and educational efforts involving schools, hospitals, and religious congregations. A new short-term transitional “safe house” is expected to open next to and affiliated with the centre. This would provide additional opportunities both for the student placed at the centre and for the DukeEngage group as a whole.

We Help Our Children

WHOC’s work focuses on engaging youth in positive experiences and activities that benefit their social development and academic achievement. WHOC operates in schools, throughout the Wentworth community, and in neighboring communities.  It offers workshops in areas such as life skills, team-building, goal-setting, leadership development, and cultural sensitivity. WHOC’s current focus is, to a large extent, on solidifying organizational practices that include plans for more sustainable funding, evaluating project efforts, aligning training materials to meet South Africa’s educational standards, and so on. Students work on youth outreach, which includes mentoring and peer facilitation components.  Work takes place at the WHOC site and in schools, community centers, and other locations.

Enrichment opportunities: Many of the enrichment opportunities take place in Wentworth. Others expose the students to South Africa and South African culture beyond Wentworth.  The opportunities are likely to include but not be limited to:

•  Orientation to and tour of Wentworth at the beginning of the program. 

•  Tour of the Phoenix settlement of Durban where Mahatma Ghandi lived and initiated his strategy of satyagraha; visit to the Ghandi Museum in the same area.

•  Visit to the U.S. Consulate in Durban and meeting with Consulate staff. 

•  Meetings with eThekwini (Durban) municipal officials. 

•  Guest speakers likely to include local elected officials, businesspeople, faculty from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and others whose work and/or professional and personal experience is relevant to DukeEngage Durban.

•  Volunteering with local youth soccer teams.

•  Visit to a game park – day-long or overnight trip

•  Community events in Wentworth and beyond,(ranging from a 10K walk through the city centre to advocacy meetings to political gatherings to music and art events) 

Students may independently plan other activities that are not specific to the DukeEngage program but are culturally or socially interesting, such as excursions to the Durban Botanic Gardens, the Umgeni River Bird Park, the beaches of Durban, flea markets, festivals, and so on.

Opportunities for Autonomy / Private Space: Students work with their service placements from approximately 9 am until 4 pm each weekday with exceptions for program enrichment activities and special events.  After work students return to the group accommodation (during the first week) or their homestays or may plan to meet fellow students or community contacts for dinner on their own.  Students are likely to have approximately two evening commitments each week with additional outings and commitments possible. Some weekend days and full weekends are scheduled in advance; others are “free” with students given the opportunity to plan day trips and other activities.

Suggested Readings: See PDF under Resources at right.

Suggested Coursework: Students interested in this program should review course offerings listed on the website of Duke’s Africa Initiative.  There are a wide range of other relevant course in multiple disciplines such as anthropology, history, global health, public policy, psychology, and sociology.  Courses that address poverty, child and family programs and policy, the history of South Africa, and race and inequality are likely to be particularly useful for this program.     

Giving and getting—benefits for Duke students: While supporting a range of community organizations, students also benefit from the program in ways such as the following:

·     Knowledge of South African culture, specifically with regard to a historic urban “coloured” community and a rural Zulu community

·     Ongoing opportunities for meaningful cross-cultural learning and collaboration

·     Strategies for building the capacity, impact, and outcomes of a diverse group of organizations and playing a role in generating and implementing those strategies

·     Greater understanding of the similarities between the U.S. and South Africa—seemingly different countries and cultures that may have more in common than one might at first expect 

·     Knowledge of and action on program conception, design, and implementation

·     Real world problem-solving both in terms of community challenges as well as potential challenges of the DukeEngage program itself

·     Resourcefulness skills including individual and group decision-making in an unfamiliar and temporary (for DE students) environment

·     Expanded awareness of and clarity about potential future educational and career opportunities 


  • DukeEngage Durban Book List
  • DukeEngage Durban Book List

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